The first year we were married, Mark made a rule. Our Christmas tree could not be up before Halloween, and it certainly must be taken down by President's Day - no earlier, and definitely no later. The new rule shaved about two months of my usual Christmas tree time, believe it or not. I loved the holidays.
Last year, I didn't put up our Christmas tree up at all. Not even one day. I told most people I didn't want to mess with it, given having two toddlers at home. They'd definitely rip it down or shred the ornaments to pieces.
I was mostly lying.
The real reason I never put the tree up was because it reminded me too much of the previous holiday season, when Charlotte had meningitis. We were in the ER the day after our family Christmas, and we celebrated New Year's in the hospital cafeteria. Suddenly, Christmas trees and lights and snow and holiday spirit meant fear and death and sickness and worry and shame - which brought paralyzing anxiety and nausea.
I'm not sure if Charlotte's meningitis was really the cause of the panic attacks I battled, or whether it was the just the last straw. In those three, short years, we had a big move, a tough pregnancy, a traumatic labor, a son born with seizures and strokes, a NICU stay, a prognosis of cerebral palsy, months and years of physical therapy, a husband with excruciating back pain, another tough pregnancy (this time with an eight-month-old in tow), another traumatic labor, my own ICU stay, and then a five month old with meningitis and another PICU stay, which felt like the straw the broke the camel's back.
It was a crack that seemed to fracture my mind and heart. Panic and anxiety became a daily battle.
This year, I told myself it was time to face some fears and put up the darn Christmas tree again. We tried last weekend. I only got half the lights on the tree because Charlotte was being a little terror and whining so badly.
Her whines turned into sniffles which turned into a fever - and then a high fever - which landed us back in the ER and admitted into the hospital.
I'm just wondering - does it ever get easier? To have sick little ones? To feel their skin burn with a fever? To see their eyes glazed and distant? To hear their whines and cries and whimpers? To rock and rock and rock them through restless nights?
I'm not sure it's easy for any mama, but even the tiniest sniffles and thermometers reading 100.8 - let alone 104 - bring me to a full-fledged panic attack, heaving over the toilet.
Charlotte hardly slept that night in the hospital, tangled up in IVs and wires. I slept even less, doing business with the Lord in between bouts of nauseousness. It didn't seem fair, I told Him. Here we were again - the same season, the same day of the week, the same "fever of unknown origin," the same blood work and testing...
"Do You enjoy playing with my mind? Letting the enemy wreak havoc in my baby's body?"
I read scripture and let its truth wash over me. I knew the Lord was a Healer and a Miracle Worker. Of all people, I knew this - which was all the more maddening.
In three short years, I have seen the Lord open doors to an amazing job and community - only He knew we needed. I have experienced His sustaining grace through months of morning sickness, and then again through 40 hours of labor. I have seen Him heal my son, who hasn't had any more seizures and has no signs of strokes or cerebral palsy. I have seen Him restore my husband's back. He gave even more grace to weather another hard pregnancy, He gave urgency and wisdom to an incredible nurse to push for an emergency c-section sparing my daughter's life. He miraculously stopped my hemorrhaging and spared my own life. He performed several astounding miracles in healing our tiny, five-month-old from the ravages of meningitis.
Of all people, I know the healing power of the Lord. I do. Of all people, I have seen His miracles. I have! My mind and heart remember His faithfulness and incredible grace...
...but my body revolts. Despite "knowing" the truth - even seeing it first-hand, my stomach turns in knots, my breathing is short and labored, my heart races and skips beats, my body shakes, my appetite leaves, sleep evades, and there's a war raging inside me. And, all the while I should be focused on my sick daughter and caring for her needs.
This is the very worst part - knowing that, in the moments my husband and kids need me to be strong, I am inevitably weak and sick, adding to the stress and compounding the problem at hand.
In just 24 hours, a round of fluids and antibiotics seemed to do wonders for little Charlotte. Just a UTI, the doctors said... By the time we left the hospital, she was spunky - singing every Frozen song, complete with dramatic actions and facial expressions, and entertaining the nurses.
I have been reading Psalm 46 a few times every day since...
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear through the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Insert a huge sigh here...
I'm sure my kids will get sick again some day. The fevers will rage again, my peace of mind may totter, but come what may... The Lord of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress. Today, that is enough.
The next day out of the hospital, we slept in, stayed home in our pajamas all day, and finished decorating that damned Christmas tree. I pray I have the strength to leave it up until President's Day.